Thursday, August 9, 2012

Technology and the Peace of Unplugging

On this day in 1945, just after 11:00 a.m., the U.S. dropped its second atomic bomb on Nagasaki.  President Truman said, "I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb... It is an awful responsibility which has come to us... We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes."

I am struck by Truman's intriguing reference to God here.  My brain spins at the idea of God using nuclear weapons in some redemptive way.  But since this isn't my theology blog, let me not go down the theological road.

It's been an interesting week in terms of technology, both as a nation and in my own life.  I'm struck by the juxtaposition of the anniversary of the bombings with the landing of Curiosity on Mars.  I'm watching the Olympics, and I'm watching pictures beamed from even further away, from a different planet.  I'm writing on a computer that has more power than the computers that first guided the space program .  I think I'm right about this.  I do know for sure that my computer is smaller and faster than those early computers--and so much cheaper!

I'm not the only one who's thinking about these juxtapositions.  I love this blog post over at the Lofty Ambitions blog which talks about plutonium at its best and worst:  "This week, we remember the destruction that nuclear weapons can unleash in a single instant. May we also look to the skies this week and know that Curiosity, powered by its nuclear battery, is readying itself to explore the geochemistry of another world. May we glimpse, in Bill Nye’s words last night, 'Humans at their very best.'”

Of course, there are ways that technology makes our lives more difficult.  I've spent part of this week, as I do every week, sorting through e-mails, most of which aren't important at all--but they all require me to read them and decide whether or not to keep them and which file stores them. 

I get batches of resumes for a job that doesn't exist in my department, and I can do nothing to get this job posting taken down from the dozens of places it exists.  Periodically, I get all the resumes in one batch--via e-mail.  Last night, I scanned through 167 pages of various resumes, most of them from people who were not remotely qualified to teach in my department so that I could tell HR whose resumes we would be keeping, in case a job opens up, and who was not qualified.  Will HR send two different letters?  I do not know.  When applicants get a letter, will they even remember applying?  Some of the materials sent to me are dated back in April and May, but I just got these resumes in early August.


And those technology issues are simply annoying, not life threatening by any means.  My colleague's mother had a fall last week, and she's entered the medical maze.  Will she emerge whole and restored?  Unlikely.

We spent the week-end at a Lutheran camp high in the mountains of North Carolina.  We had no T.V., and for part of the week-end, no Internet access.  On our last night there, after most people had left, my spouse and I sat on the porch and watched the sky darken and the stars get brighter.  I felt a lack of anxiety, a peacefulness that I experience far less when I'm in my fully wired world.

I don't want to go back to 1945 or 1962 or 1994.  I'm happy for the developments that technology has brought us, from the huge amounts of music/data that we can carry on increasingly small devices to the medical technology that does so much to help us avoid the horrors of the past to the ways that I stay connected with people to the ability to explore a distant planet.

No, once again, I find myself longing for balance, wishing that I didn't have to drive such a distance to experience the peace that comes from unplugging.

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